Friday, January 04, 2008

India, when will you truly rise?

I've been traveling the past few weeks. Just returned after visiting my parents at Satna, MP (Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India). Our church runs an ICSE-ISC school here, my father is the principal and my mother is a teacher. I too was a student here over a decade ago. This little town is also the preferred railway station for tourists to proceed towards Khajuraho, famous for its erotic sculptures and a UNESCO heritage site. It also serves as a hub to Panna, the diamond district and Chitrakoot

What is startling is the sheer state of neglect and apathy towards public infrastructure development in these places. Compared to Kerala, these places (a significant portion of India) are decades behind, with little hope of catching up (not many residents of Kerala realize just how lucky they are. I'd suggest a North India trip to all Kerala cribbers). From what I've seen in my travels in India, the state of Satna is representative of most of India, the real India and not the 'Bangalore-India' or 'Delhi-India'.

The last time I'd been to Satna was 13 years ago. Sure, there are a lot more houses now - unimaginative, haphazard blocs of brick and cement. That makes me conclude that architecture, symmetry, design and aesthetics are 'higher' needs, maybe they are not even 'needs' per se. When people with limited resources just need a roof over their heads and four walls around - thats exactly what they make.

The roads are an excuse at best. ISRO can readily test its moon buggies, if at all it makes em, on any of the roads here. Even Kerala has its fair share of potholed roads but this place has more potholes than roads.

Water supply - non-existent (this is winter, I dread what will happen in summer!). Electricity erratic, the lights give an almost apologetic glow. Public transport - rickety metal boxes with an engine, wheels and a few seats thrown in.

Uncleanliness and an absolute lack of hygiene (cant blame the folks completely for this - when there is no water, how can one wash?). But some things should change. People here still defecate by the side of the railway and road tracks. Cows, dogs, fleas and mosquitoes share the space on the railway platform! The concept of sanitation has either not yet percolated down to some people or perhaps remains an unattainable luxury. A man no less than Gandhi ji was extremely concerned about this even half a century ago.

It is in circumstances such as these that resilience shines. I admire the warmth and hospitality shown by many at Satna despite their constraints. Some people just go out of their way to help. Heres a note of thanks to Mr. Jain who runs a popular book store there who helped us with all our railway bookings and personally came in at 5 am in the chilly winter to see us off.

How I wish the people running the state machinery would rise above their petty squabbles, corrupt selfishness and simply implement the development policies. How I wish most people would have access to at-least basic education and infrastructure. Before talking about broadband, wifi and what not in India, essential infrastructure, good governance and accessible education must be talked about. Only then will there be a chance for the real India to rise.

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